CineSavant Column

Saturday January 19, 2019


At this writing (Friday) I just learned that associate Nick Redman has passed away. I’ve been exchanging nice notes with Nick about disc products since his name began cropping up on DVDs in the late 1990s. The company he co-founded Twilight Time has earned a high roost in the business. Redman’s Variety obit covers his extensive work in documentaries and soundtrack production. His taste, judgment and commitment to quality always stood out, and his writings on film soundtracks were unmatched.

Nick did not make the fight for his health into a mystery. The last couple of years saw him in and out of treatment, noted on Facebook. When I first heard of his troubles I carefully wrote in, expressing concern; Nick wrote back with typical clarity of mind, telling me the score as he knew it without dramatics or self pity. I admire his courage, and know I’ll remember him.

Thoughtful correspondent Lee Kaplan sent along an article of interest, by Henry K. Miller at the BFI page. 1963 and all that: Raymond Durgnat and the birth of the Great British Phantasmagoria brings up my favorite film writer in the context of the evolution of film criticism in the 1960s. Raymond Durgnat was one of the first to champion ‘rejected’ pictures like Michael Powell’s Peeping Tom and Mario Bava’s Black Sunday. My first realization that Barbara Steele had become a horror legend was Durgnat’s obsessive writing about her morbid appeal: “Is she any the less desirable?” The article offers a mini-history of the publication of English and French film magazines. One reference explains the origin of the now-legendary French publication Midi-Minuit Fantastique.

With lightning speed, CineSavant advisor and fixer Gary Teetzel informs us whenever announcements or rumors of new genre Blu-rays appear on the horizon. This week it’s a new Blu from Scream Factory, The Mole People. Scream mentions a new making-of show and a Tom Weaver commentary, which is always a plus. I wonder, will Tom praise the minimalist mini-epic as beloved nostalgia, or will he be transparently critical of its shortcomings — you know, will it remind him too much of a Hammer film?

I answered Gary indignantly, protesting that the announced extras included no feature-length docu on the film’s amazing host and presenter, Dr. Frank C. Baxter. Gary wondered if it were not too late to include Dr. Baxter’s greatest acting triumph, Hemo the Magnificent. In a burst of critical insight worthy of Raymond Durgnat, Gary then reacted to Scream’s decision to include two full encodings of Mole People, one at 1:85 and the other at 2:1. Gary’s cinematic musing:

“The precedent for multiple aspect ratios was, of course, set by Criterion’s Blu-ray release of On the Waterfront. If you think about it, the two films are thematically linked: Kazan’s Waterfront reveals the corruption among those controlling labor on the docks, while Virgil Vogel’s The Mole People unflinchingly depicts the deplorable working conditions of the downtrodden Mole People, who don’t benefit from a union. And doesn’t the Mole Person design remind you of Marlon Brando?  Perhaps Budd Schulberg wrote Mole People under a pseudonym!  Guess we’ll have to wait for the commentary to find out.”

Have you ever really looked at the difference between a 1:85 and a 2:1 scan?  It’s a distinction for only the most serious film nerds devotees. Personally speaking, the only Mole People I know are the restaurant staff that whip up that terrific chocolate-y Mexican sauce, mole poblano.

Gary’s definitely on a roll… with two Mole People links from Tom Weaver. There exists a song, a peppy tune by the distinguished team of Livingston and Evans. For a minute, I thought it was something by the satirist Tom Lehrer, but no, it actually feels inspired by the movie, or perhaps a Times Square walk-by of the movie’s poster. Here are the composers singing Mole People!, and also a cover version by Michael Feinstein. If you ask me, Spielberg’s press info about remaking West Side Story must be a diversion from his actual secret super-project, “Mole!” The Musical.

On a (slightly) more serious note, Gary brings news that might motivate me to see a new Godzilla movie in a real theater. Lee Hyo-won’s Hollywood Reporter article Godzilla: King of the Monsters to Get ScreenX Format Release means that it might screen at a Korean neighborhood theater not far from CineSavant headquarters — and conveniently right next to the service station I favor to change the oil in my cars!  ScreenX sounds like a really bogus format, but it might be an excellent field trip opportunity for myself and pals Gary and Darren Gross.

Thanks for reading! — Glenn Erickson